My response to the most thoughtful critique about why Brexit will not happen

In amongst the Brexiteer rants on Twitter in response to my post about why Brexit will not happen, there was one long and thoughtful response. I’ve reproduced each point here as quotes, and then replied to each – that I think makes the response more coherent to read.

1. I think it was right that Article 50’s invocation was left by Cameron to his successor. His statement that it would be triggered on 24 June is just one more lamentable example of Project Fear and the accompanying soft threats

I don’t disagree with the idea that threatening to trigger Article 50 was exactly that – a threat. But I do not think that is the central issue here – delaying Article 50 right after the referendum was important in that it delayed the whole process, by adding an additional step – the argument about when to fire the starting gun. We are still now, 7 weeks on, in that pre-stage – will we ever get out of it? So by all means quibble about why Cameron did not do it, but the effects of him not doing it are important.

2. Scotland’s position does not need to be accounted for. It voted to remain in the UK and bound by the UK’s actions. Further, it voted to remain in the UK knowing that an EU referendum was a real possibility, in the knowledge that it would be bound by what the UK decides.

Yes, Westminster could get its way on this if it wanted. But it would not be without serious consequences – possibly leading to the break up of the UK. May, in her inauguration speech, went out of her way to sound reconciliatory about Scotland and she realises there is a political (if not a legal) problem here.

3. I agree that there is not a clear idea of what Brexit should look like. I see this as a failure of the Cameron and May governments. The Stronger In whiners blame the Leave campaign. But they were never standing for government nor ever seeking to be in a position to implement their preferences. That campaign was a broad coalition of people who wanted to leave for various reasons. It is a government failure.

In part this is true – the Cameron government did not have a plan. But I think the problem runs far deeper – the pro-Brexit folks for years and years (see reactions to this blog entry of mine from 2011 for example!) have deliberately not had detailed plans – because to do so would mean these plans could be scrutinised in detail. And even if the lack of a plan is a government failure, we still have to cope with it – the longer it takes to make a plan, or the more incoherent that plan is, the less likely it becomes that Brexit will happen.

4. Can you explain how David Davis’s views in the Conservative Home argument are legally incoherent?

Here’s the Davis piece. While the UK is still in the EU it cannot, legally, conclude trade deals with the rest of the world, or with individual EU Member States.

5. We don’t ‘need experts to make things happen’, if you mean academics. Experts are often wrong. Ask Blanchflower.

You do not need academics. But you need legal experts and negotiators. And the UK lacks trade negotiators, and it also lacks enough civil servants knowledgeable about the EU and how to work with it – it’s going to take a long time, and have a large cost, to get that expertise. It’s possible, but not cheap. That might leave little of the £350m a week left for the NHS…

6. Passport format is a result of a Council Resolution adopted in the early 80s. It is true that we didn’t adopt the format until much later and that we could have departed from it once adopted but I’m not sure it would have been politically acceptable. The UK, unlike France, has a history of accepting EU laws it does not like. France simply disregards them, as it does with the ECtHR decisions it doesn’t like

The law – from 1981 – is here. To cut a long story short (as I tweeted loads about this a fortnight ago), the colour of the passport is not legally binding (and Croatia – an EU Member State – still has blue ones). The issue is more with the format that now respects ICAO norms. So the UK could change the colour back, but could not re-introduce the old format.

7. You are wholly wrong and inflammatory to say that the Leave campaign vilified EU migrants. It is, at best, disingenuous to conflate concerns about EU immigration with a hatred for migrants, just because SOME people may feel this way. People of your ilk are apt to whine about generalisations about minorities from a small number, yet, are happy to indulge in this when it comes to Brexit-minded people. For what it’s worth I absolutely 100% support the right of anyone in the UK by June 23rd to remain indefinitely in the UK with all the same rights as every UK citizen.

Oh come on! I am not saying all Leave people were racists, or anti-immigration, but there was a lot of anti immigrant rhetoric on the Leave side! I present you the Vote Leave Turkey poster, and Farage’s Breaking Point poster.

8. Criticising Leadsom for defending farm subsidies when she wanted to Leave is laughable. Subsidies directly from Defra are a lot different to being against sending money to an organisation to be given a fraction of it back as subsidies

You’re right that UK paying its own subsidies might come at lower cost (although due to the mess at the Rural Payments Agency I am not so sure, but that’s another issue). But how keen she is on supporting farmers uses yet more of the money that was promised to the NHS in the campaign, and also belies the idea that the Brexiteers are free market economic liberals. An argument that the UK might be better doing subsidies itself is a lot weaker than the one to get rid of CAP!

9. It is misleading to imply that the ‘views of the rest of the EU have to be taken into account’. Not regarding whether we Leave or not, which is implied, but on the terms of the relationship which enures thereafter. Not about whether or when we leave.

No. Whatever Brexit deal emerges has to be agreed by the rest of the EU Member States. They will not stop Britain leaving if that’s what Britain wants, but they are going to have a major say (and have their own demands) over how the UK-EU relationship looks after Brexit.

10. You are correct that the only means by which we can leave is Article 50. An Act of Parliament to repeal the European Communities Act (1972) will be necessary, but will not itself be sufficient

I agree here. And I think there is now consensus that a vote of the House of Commons is necessary to trigger Article 50.

11. I disagree that there should be an either/or referendum on the basis of the exit deal. We have already voted to leave. Your idea will give the EU the option to be deliberately punitive in the hope that we are influenced to vote to remain. If there is any referendum on Brexit terms it should simply be to accept those terms, or to leave without any such agreement and rely on default WTO rules

So a deal where the options are sour or bitter. Good luck trying to defend that! Even the UK media might dislike that one – and indeed enough for them to put the status quo on the ballot paper as well. If even Owen Smith is sharp enough to see putting the status quo on the ballot then there must be something to it. Oh, and if you think Brexit is convincing enough, what are you worried about? 😉

12. You countenance that people voted Leave for multifarious, sometimes conflicting, reasons but not that they voted to remain, similarly. Indeed, there was someone on Adrian Chiles’s Radio 5 show, when interviewed, who said he was voting to remain ‘to bring an end to the Bedroom Tax’.

Fair point. Although it was pretty clear what Remain meant – it meant keeping the UK-EU relationship as it was (with Cameron’s minor changes). In comparison what Leave precisely meant was far less clear.

13. You state: ” I’m pretty sure that no negotiable Brexit option would be adequately appealing enough to make it more appealing that remaining in the European Union. And that is before taking into account all of the rest of the EU Member States’ demands towards the UK.” Well, that is no surprise as you are looking at it through the eyes of someone who voted to remain, in the first place.

Perhaps. But – as I argued throughout the campaign, and have been arguing for years – neither the sort of Norway-option, or full-out sort of Canada option is really any good for the UK. And the UK cannot get the best of both of those options. Part of the reason the Brexit side had no plan (see above) was because it meant it did not confront the trade offs between those two sorts of options. When a deal is on the table – that leans more towards one than the other – it ought to be clearer that the EU is not such a bad deal after all. Please also note that I am not that bothered if the UK leaves – the rest of the EU will survive without it, and I am personally insulated from what will happen. So I am not pushing this line because I am somehow personally scared or implicated.

14. “So a further referendum is a sad necessity, and I cannot see how any single, clearly defined, vision of Brexit would ever possibly defeat Remain.” Again, this is through your eyes and is not an explanation as to why you think we won’t leave. It’s simply a bald assertion based on emotion.

See the reply to 13 above. I cannot see how either a Norway-style option, or a Canada-style option, will be appealing – as both have downsides. And getting the best of both options is not possible to negotiate. So this is not based on emotion – it is based on an analysis of what the UK could get, and how that would then fly (or not) if presented to the UK population.

You could look at it like this: no-one knew what Brexit they were voting for, exactly.
BUT THEY WERE SO SURE THAT THEY STILL WANTED TO LEAVE THE EU THAT THEY VOTED LEAVE REGARDLESS. (Not shouting; caps in lieu of italics).
To suppose that remain options will be more appealing to this electorate than any terms of leaving is incredible optimism. People will always vote for the ‘less EU, more sovereignty’ option.

But essentially any deal the UK could negotiate would be “less EU, less sovereignty” (the Norway option), or “less EU, more sovereignty, but screw the economy” (the Canada option). Maybe one of those might succeed, but I still doubt it.

[UPDATE – 17.8.16, 1215] The user who wrote the critique has contacted me to ask that I remove attribution to him/her. The reasons for this were communicated to me in confidence. The substance of the critique I think is still valid, and is reproduced in full here, so I will let the blog entry stand.

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2 comments

  1. Andy

    As a Yank whose only stake is the possibility that England (because c’mon, let’s be honest here) further becomes the US’ lap dog with Brexit, I just don’t see any good outcomes should Brexit go through.

    Brexiteers speak of sovereignty as if it were simply a tap to be turned on or off, when the truth facing a small nation interested in the benefits of trade is far, far trickier.

    If this comment sounds insulting and condescending, then perhaps a harder look in the mirror is in order.

  2. John

    Brexit is not good for UK i think!